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Headache and Indigestion -- Is Your Bra to Blame?

Bras aren't just about looks; a poor fit can cause health problems.
 
 
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Are you constantly pulling up your bra straps? Do your shoulders fall forward? Do your bosoms bounce when you walk, despite your new balcony bra with lace trim? The chances are you are among the majority of women who have never had a proper bra fitting and whose posture and back health are compromised as a result.

Attitudes about bra fit and function vary by generation. Younger women are more likely to find that their bra doesn't fit properly because, in the good old days, pubescent girls were almost always fitted for bras. The idea of being fitted for a bra when I was 13 would have been gross, but everything looks different after my bra epiphany, which happened in Night Owls on the Fulham Road, in southwest London.

"Your bra doesn't fit properly!" the lady at the cash register shouted, as I checked out the pink flannel pajamas. I pretended not to notice. "I bet you've never had a bra fitting in your life!" continued the voice.

She marched over. I was wearing an expensive underwire bra, designed to give "lift." I had tried it on in the shop, but that was not, I was told, a proper fitting.

"I bet your back strap's halfway up your shoulder blades. Look at your posture! Your bust line is sinking!" My ear lobes, she said, were almost attached to my shoulders. I'd spent years compromising my breast and back health, apparently, and my bra was a load of "shite." I told her I'd always been a 36C. "Rubbish," she snorted. "You're a 30 or 32E."

This was a shock; I'd only come in for pajamas. As chairwoman of the PTA, I did not want an E cup. It sounded huge, like Jordan.

All this is not just a matter of vanity. Last week, the British Chiropractic Association warned that wearing the wrong bra size can lead to a number of problems, including back pain, restricted breathing, abrasions, breast pain and poor posture. The problems are even more acute in large-breasted women.

"Bras are like suspension bridges," says the BCA's Tim Hutchful. "You need a well-engineered bra so your shoulders don't end up doing all the work. Bras that don't fit will affect the shoulders and chest and will almost certainly cause back pain as you get older."

The woman prodding, pulling and hoiking introduced herself as Yolanda Ktori. A passionate advocate of corsetry, she has seen the profession clobbered by our smash-and-grab society. "Women buy bras off the shelf at M&S [though it does offer a fitting service] and don't have a clue what size they are. Some stores offer fittings, but most women don't bother." She pushed my shoulders down and pulled my blades back, showing me where the strap should sit: on the meaty part of the shoulder toward the neckline, locking in with the shoulders and streamlining down the back to stop slipping. "It's like the reins on a horse. You pull everything back, not forward," she says.

The corsetry experts at Rigby & Peller estimate that 80 percent of women who come through their doors are wearing the wrong-sized bra, and they also stress that badly fitting bras can lead to back problems and bad posture. The most common bra solecisms are cups that are too small and bands that are loose around the back causing the shoulders to carry the weight of the bosoms, instead of the back. A bra must be firm (not tight) around the back and support the weight of the breasts in the mid to lower back. Rigby & Peller says the back band should be level with the underwire (Ktori says an inch-and-a-half lower).

 
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